September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Montana 988 suicide prevention
Posted at 5:45 PM, Sep 08, 2023

GREAT FALLS — September is national suicide prevention awareness month. For the past 30 years, Montana has ranked in the top five states in the nation for suicide rates. However, there are things we can do to help.

According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, or the DPHHS, Montana is top five in all age groups in suicide rates past 30 years, and in 2020 it had the third highest suicide rate in the nation. The highest Montana rates from 2011 to 2020 were Native Americans followed by Caucasians. The Montana DPHHS also found that there were six survivors for every completed suicide, and there were 300 suicides per year, meaning there are 1800 suicide survivors every year.

“There’s a high concentration of those higher risk populations, and that is your American Indian, veteran, as well as middle-aged white males,” said Julie Prigmore, the director for Cascade County Services with Many Rivers Whole Health.

Other common factors that make Montanans prone to depression is a lack of vitamin d, the high altitude, the rural, potentially isolated setting, and the high use of substances for coping mechanisms. Substances can be used as an aid for social interaction, but that can snowball into a dependency, especially if they have depression or suicidal thoughts already.

There is also still a stigma around mental health, where people feel afraid to talk about it because that might make it more real than it is. to Prigmore, understanding it is our best defense against stigma.

“Having that understanding helps destigmatize,” Prigmore said.

Having depressive and suicidal thoughts does not mean you will have them forever. In fact, most of the time suicidal thinking can be treated.

“Depression has an 86% chance of successful treatment if you take medication and see a therapist at the same time,” Prigmore said.

Suicide is not just a problem adults face, as children are also susceptible to depression. In 2021 a youth risk behavior survey found that over ten percent of all students grade 9-12 in Montana attempted suicide. According to the DPHHS, it is the number one cause of preventable death in Montana ages 10 to 14. In kids, symptoms can appear in many ways.

“Withdrawing, removing themselves from their friend group, not playing the sports they used to play,” Lori O’Dell, eighth-grade counselor at North Middle School said, “and really they’ll start texting their friends, talking about ‘when I’m gone’, not wanting to be around anymore, is a lot of the signs we see”.

At such a young age, students can be afraid of losing a friend if they tell anyone about depressive thoughts. This leads to them keeping their own thoughts to themselves and not telling an adult when their friend shares suicidal thoughts.

“You’d rather have a friend alive and mad at you than not mad at you but not with us anymore,” O’Dell said.

The best way to fight against depression and suicide is to speak up and reach out if you or someone you know is struggling.

“Just speak up,” O’Dell said, “Talk to your parents, talk to your friends, we have our anonymous tip line that they can reach out to, they can come down and see us anonymously, just speak up and take care of each other. Be kind.” 

Several Great Falls Public Schools have Alluvion in the building, which is a great resource the students can go to for mental health.

People can also educate themselves to be able to help others in crisis situations. QPR or ASIST training are offered in Great Falls and are open for the general public to participate.

It is important to remember that if you or a loved one are struggling, it is okay to reach out, and you are never alone.

You can call or text 988, which is the new mental crisis hotline. There is also a mobile access team that can come to you when you call that number. You can also text MT to 751751.

Click here to visit the website for the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for more information and resources.